Whatever someone may think about his humor, a person’s reaction to an episode of “The Eric Andre Show” is a surprisingly effective way to gauge their personality. I won’t quite go so far as to judge you based on your reaction, but I can, in a way that’s difficult to articulate, get to know you beyond a superficial level (although I will say if you guffaw the same way I do after watching a specific segment for the 10th time, we will probably be friends). Borrowing from a rich tradition of absurdist humor ranging from Monty Python to “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” Eric Andre’s work is the most successful form of absurdism in the internet and pop culture age.
There is a wealth of options for the discerning late-night viewer. Too many options, really. While each variation of the format has their own unique “made-for-Youtube” segments, they are really all too similar. The tropes of straight white men making just barely witty jokes, offering milquetoast interviews with celebrities who would rather be anywhere else and squandering opportunities with actually interesting guests make for a steady stream of cash for networks, but offer little in the way of substance for viewers. Every once in a while, you might just become completely fed up with the self-importance of it all.
Enter Eric Andre. Perhaps the best way to describe “The Eric Andre Show” is a deconstruction of this tired format. It’s like watching Jimmy Kimmel, except you just flipped on the new TV in the Red Room in “Twin Peaks” while tripping on acid. It lies in an uncanny valley of late night talk shows. For the first five seconds or so, everything seems normal. Eric Andre himself seems charming enough, sitting behind a desk holding note cards. There’s a live band. The audience is clapping (well, kind of). There’s the straight man played by Hannibal Buress who seems funny enough to riff off the host’s jokes. So far, so good.
And usually, it all falls apart in a glorious, symphonic trainwreck. Every single aspect of the show is designed to make the guest as uncomfortable as possible. At this point, there are either two reactions: You either feel as uncomfortable as the guest, or you decide that this is the best thing you have ever watched. Reportedly, the studio has a conspicuous lack of air conditioning. There might be a musky smell permeating the place as well, or even “heat ducts in (the guest’s) seats.” Andre might strip naked, puke over his desk or suspend a man with hooks over the desk — whatever it takes to completely horrify the guests. Even Hannibal is in tune with him, whether he is shouting at Christina Applegate or getting verbally assaulted by a woman from the crowd (before getting slapped by said woman’s wig).
For the most part, the guests seem to end the show contemplating firing their publicists. Unlike the usual round of late night shows, guests are never coddled or worshipped. It makes you wonder what exactly would happen if some of the truly repulsive figures who end up on the normal talk shows appeared with Eric Andre (à la Sacha Baron Cohen in “Who is America”). But every once in a while, a Tyler the Creator shows up — that is, someone who understands, embraces and completely flips the shows format on its head, reducing Andre to be more akin to Jimmy Fallon than his usual, irreverent self.
But maybe the true brilliance of the show is that I am completely wrong. There may be no method whatsoever to Eric Andre’s madness, and if so, more power to him. I just hope that in a world where reality seems just as absurd as the wildest fictions ever conceived, he can find ways to continue shocking us.